“...If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24 NRSV
We gather today as ministers of the liturgy of the Church, a liturgy that presents us with the whole ministry of God in Christ Jesus; a ministry which makes the crucial difference in the world.
Every time we approach the sacred mysteries, we pledge ourselves to make a difference in the world; a crucial difference.
In that regard, I’m thinking of the events of the last week in Texas and Georgia, where two men were executed by the state.
One was most certainly guilty of a heinous crime committed against James Byrd Jr. Lawrence Brewer went to his execution for that crime.
The other man’s guilt as to the death of Mark McPhail was in serious doubt, but Troy Davis went to his execution anyway.
One man went to his death unmourned and scorned. His crime is so brutal that it is hard to feel anything but loathing toward him.
When Troy Davis went to his death, a crowd gathered outside the prison to mourn and protest. Celebrities, the Pope, Desmond Tutu, and Jimmy Carter spoke out in protest.
When Lawrence Brewer went to his death, only one person was present to mourn and protest the execution.
Former journalist and candidate for ordination in the Episcopal Church David R. Henson notes this fact in a very thoughtful blog post. In it he admits – that as an opponent of the death penalty – he was active in the protest of Troy Davis’s execution. He also acknowledges, that, according to the logic of his own arguments against the death penalty, he should have protested Lawrence Brewer’s execution as well as that of Troy Davis. But he didn’t.
The resulting comment thread on his blog is a rarity in my experience of reading comment threads on the internet. It seems free of ad hominem attacks. It seems thoughtful and respectful. It is certainly challenging.
One participant in the thread writes:
September 22, 2011 at 1:49 pm
The idealist in me says absolutely, the death penalty is wrong no matter the situation. However, I also know that is far too easy for someone like me to say. Someone who has never lost a family member due to violent crime. And now that I have children, I understand the dirty, ugly things I would do to protect them. I land pretty liberally on most topics but admit to being on the fence on this. If anything, this event has started a conversation for a new wave of people, including myself. It won’t be an issue I am apathetic about anymore and one that will get more research (on a personal level). That’s got to be a good thing.
I agree. That is a good thing. One of the things about taking up our cross to follow Jesus is putting away apathy.
I don’t know where all of you are on the death penalty. It’s not my purpose in this homily to address that topic head-on.
But it is my purpose to point out that when we approach the liturgy, we open ourselves – with Jesus – to troubling issues, and we pledge to make a difference in society; a difference rooted in the values and vision of Jesus.
Oh, by the way, Comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory, a black man, was outside the prison where Lawrence Brewer, a white supremacist, was put to death for the brutal dragging death of James Byrd Jr.
Makes you think, doesn’t it?
But then, we follow Jesus, who died for all, the righteous and the unrighteous. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
And I propose that we consider that Lawrence Brewer and James Byrd Jr. and Troy Davis and Mark McPhail and all their families have this in common: they are loved by God, who weeps over the sins which destroyed their lives. They are loved by Jesus, who offers himself to us in the liturgy that we may be empowered to follow Jesus into uncomfortable territory.
David Henson's blog post is found at http://davidrhenson.wordpress.com/2011/09/22/the-state-killed-a-man-last-night/ For some reason I could not embed the link.